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Black Friday & Independent Retailers

22-Nov-2018 4:54 PM | Kimberley White

In the run up to Christmas, UK consumers are expected to spend over £2,000 each, according to research by Adobe. Trends forecaster Fiona Chautard reports on how Black Friday mania is affecting our small and well-loved independent retailers.

Many will be hoping to make the most of any deals on offer. Black Friday - this Friday, 23 November - originated in the US, as a way of kicking off Christmas spending after Thanksgiving with the lure of great bargains.

In recent years Black Friday has gradually built up momentum in the UK with increasing numbers of retailers launching sales in the days leading up to Black Friday – extending the peak period further still. Shops don't typically announce their promotions until fairly close to the big day, but emails offering discounts have been hitting inboxes for days.

There is certainly a lot of hype around Black Friday discounting and year-long research by consumer platform Which has shown that a Black Friday discount may look like a good deal, but that you could get a better bargain if you’re willing to wait. They tracked product prices for 12 months and found that 87% were the same price or cheaper than their Black Friday price at other times of year. Some 46% of products were cheaper than their Black Friday price on at least one day during the six months afterwards.

A few brands and retailers, including some of the biggest chains in the UK, are opting not to join the frenzy.

We asked some independent design-led textile businesses based in Scotland, who are trading online and through independent retailers, for their opinion on how large-scale discounting affects the growth of their business.

“Many small businesses are just that, small, and so we don't have the ability to do what big brands can as our profit margins are not built for this. Our prices are an honest figure that represents what it costs to make the work.” Laura Spring, textile designer and owner of Laura Spring explains.

Laura Spring at work in her Glasgow studio

“We occasionally have a sale when some things are just no longer part of our range, but we only do this after six months or a year. We carry products and designs for a long time and we don't believe in slashing our prices right before Christmas - punishing our valued and loyal customers who shop with us right up until our last posting dates. Like so many small businesses, we rely on this time of year to make up a large part of our income so to give a weekend of big discounts just doesn't work for us.”

Catherine Aitken, director of Catherine Aitken, an Edinburgh-based accessories brand, suggests that large companies who take part in Black Friday can offer huge discounts because of the higher profit margins that they have built into their pricing structure. Her brand is focused on creating a collection where the materials are carefully sourced to be sustainable and locally produced which, she says, results in the cost of her products being higher than a company who mass produces overseas where less consideration is paid to the production environment and its human cost.

“If we were to offer the same discounts as larger brands then we would be literally losing money and wouldn’t be able to pay into the local economy as we do, paying taxes as we do when, as we know, many larger companies pay little or no tax in the UK at all!”

Catherine Aitken messenger bag

The woven textile designer Heather Shields believes that “Caving to pressure to offer discounts on Black Friday seems like a bit of a race to the bottom to me. Most independent makers are already offering their pieces for the best possible price they can afford as they generally have higher labour and materials costs. With so many high street shops struggling too, it doesn't really seem as if the Black Friday approach is working for them either and, sooner or later, I think we will need to address how unsustainable our current consumer culture is - environmentally, ethically and economically.”

“I like to offer discounts or have competitions every so often but at a time that works for me and when I have the stock to support it - such as the upcoming Grey Wolf Studio Christmas Sale where I will be offering 30-50% discount on all pieces. I think many of my customers understand and appreciate this approach and don’t necessarily expect smaller businesses to conform to Black Friday.”

Heather Shields and her wonderful woven cushions

Initiatives such as the nationwide JUST A CARD campaign aims to encourage people to buy from designer/makers, independent galleries and shops by reinforcing the message that all purchases, however small are so vital to the prosperity and survival of small businesses.

The campaign came about when Artist & Designer Sarah Hamilton saw the quote "If everyone who'd complimented our beautiful gallery had bought 'just a card' we'd still be open" by store keepers who'd recently closed their gallery.

Inspired by the story, Hamilton launched Just A Card to encourage people to buy from independent galleries and shops by reinforcing the message that all purchases, however small, are vital to the prosperity and survival of small businesses.

The scheme is gathering momentum, with nearly 50,000 followers on social media and stickers, featuring its distinctive bird logo, in an estimated 10,000 shop windows. From Monday, it is running an “indie week” to counter the might of Black Friday.

“We’re doing something about what we see as a really big problem,” says Hamilton, adding that the volunteer-run campaign came about as she noticed fellow artists and the stores where they sold their work were struggling. “The Just A Card sticker in a window is a call to arms. We want to remind everyone that shopping small is a must this Christmas.”

Recent figures chart the stark decline of Britain’s high streets with the number of vacant shops, pubs and restaurants increasing by more than 4,400 in the first six months of 2008. As fewer Britons visit the high street shops, galleries and pubs are suffering in a climate of rising costs and falling sales.

Catherine Aitken suggests that buying even just one Christmas gift from an independent maker, designer or small business can make such a huge impact not only to the individual themselves but to the local economy and creative community at large.

“It’s the best return on your money you can get and it will be a gift that’s original and created with passion and consideration.”

Heather Shields believes that choosing to purchase a gift from an independent store / designer provides a more unique offer as well as being much more ethically made.

“I think buying independent also offers a lot more variety than what is available on the high street where every shop sells a slightly different version of the same thing. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend and exhibit at some really fun Christmas pop-up shops and events over the past few years with mulled wine, raffles and home baking - in general I think it’s a much more pleasant and personal shopping experience and it definitely leaves you feeling festive!”

Buy local this Christmas at lauraspring.co.uk

This Christmas, there is more choice than ever before to find locally designed and made product on our high street though the many pop-up shops and markets which are active during November and December.

Here are just a few of the retailers, pop-ups and scheduled Christmas markets open in November and December featuring the work of independent designers and designer makers in Scotland:

Christmas Pop-ups and Designer markets:

So this year, please think about your local independent retailers before you decide to partake in the spending mania of Black Friday.

About the author, Fiona Chautard.

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